Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Catherine Keener! Joan Cusack! Nicole Holofcener! Simon McBurney!
A Fantastic Four-way with those Friends with Money
from the 4-5-06 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Friends with Money writer-director Nicole Holofcener says the original poster (above left) was more "girlie" until she asked that it
be toned down, Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack dressed in one of the designs by Jane, Frances McDormand's
character (top right), meanwhile Jane's husband Simon McBurney enjoys an afternoon movie date with his new special "friend"
(below right) and the female leads surround Holofcener at Sundance where the film was the opening night selection
A suite in Chicago's trendy and glamorous Peninsula Hotel is ironically the perfect place to talk to the writer-director and several cast
members of a movie titled Friends with Money. Perfect because this little gem of a film deals with the rarely discussed issue of how
money affects relationships.
It’s concerned with the tightly connected friendships of three middle aged married women with a slightly younger one who is also
single and has a dream cast. Frances McDormand plays perpetually angry Jane, a clothing designer whose British husband Aaron
(Simon McBurney) seems to all observers to be gay, recent Capote Oscar nominee Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs are a
bickering screenwriting couple in big time trouble, while Joan Cusack and teddy bear husband Greg Germann are Franny and Matt,
the ultra wealthy, deliciously happy couple who keep loaning money to Olivia, played by Jennifer Aniston. Emotionally and financially
adrift Olivia has given up teaching and is now working as a maid. This sort of female version of Sondheim’s “Company” (sans
musical numbers – though several wonderful new Rickie Lee Jones songs provide the soundtrack) plays out against the backdrop of
Writer-director Nicole Holfcener is responsible for this funny, sharply observant relationship picture which opens this Friday. She and
Catherine Keener (who collaborated on Holofcener’s two previous films) sat down recently to talk about the movie. Mid-interview they
were joined by Joan Cusack and Simon McBurney. Highlights from the conversation:
WCT: I think they say that the majority of relationships and marriages break up because of money – at least that’s what Oprah
NICOLE HOLOFCENER (NH): I’m not an authority thankfully on the breakup of marriages. I think money is such a complicated issue
and that so many people have such strong feelings about it depending on their upbringing and that if we’re a mess about it it’s
bound to get into the marriage. I think in the same way if you have intimate friendships money will come up especially when you hit
your 40s and when you’re gonna be rich you got rich by this time and if you didn’t it doesn’t look like you’re going to.
CATHERINE KEENER (CK): Wow that’s true.
NH: (laughs) I’m deep.
WCT: Nicole you’ve talked about Joan and Greg’s characters being rich AND happily married and people wanting something to be
wrong with that.
NH: We tell ourselves things to make us feel better – “Well, at least my rich friends are ugly or they never have sex” and I actually
have friends who happen to be wealthy and probably have the strongest marriage of anyone I know and I thought, “Isn’t that ironic
in a cruel way? I’m going to share that cruelty with everyone else.” Sometimes it lands out that way and it hurts.
CK: But it shouldn’t hurt and why does it? Because they’re portrayed so lovingly and you can’t help but root for them—
NH: And there’s one of them right now! And what a great color!
JOAN CUSACK WALKS INTO THE ROOM. SHE’S WEARING A CRANBERRY COLORED LONG SLEEVED BLOUSE.
JOAN CUSACK (JC): Hello! Hello!
WCT: Okay, this is perfect and I’m really happy. I’m from the gay paper and she’s the gay icon.
CK: She’s the gay icon? I thought I was the gay icon! (she’s laughing)
NH: You mean she’s like the Liza Minnelli of Chicago because she lives here?
WCT: No, because of In & Out and Catherine, you’re in the gay film pantheon for If These Walls Could Talk and Being John Malkovich.
CK: Okay, good.
WCT: We were talking about the idea of wanting Franny and Matt not to be as happy as they seem to be because they’re rich.
JC: I think people assume that too much of a good thing will spoil things.
WCT: But isn’t there also just a little bit of a tiny tyranny in the husband’s character? Did I pick up on something subtle there?
NH: That’s your own issue (laughs).
WCT: When Olivia, Jennifer Aniston’s character says to her, “Well, you never had to ask him about loaning me money before you
NH: But he sees her giving away all her money – their money – and feeling guilty about it.
WCT: See I don’t have that luxury or that option. With a gay couple there’s his money, my money and sometimes our money.
You don’t have that automatic “our money” thing that’s taken for granted by straight married couples.
CK: See it is your issue! (laughs)
WCT: Can you talk about the conscious effort to make a movie that doesn’t look glamorous and show people that look real? It
seems like a real statement to see a movie with middle-aged women who haven’t disfigured their faces.
CK: I know it’s weird that that should be a statement but it’s true.
NH: People say, “Oh, you’re so brave to let your actresses look like that” and I was like, “Uh, that’s what they look like.”
SIMON McBURNEY HAS NOW JOINED THE INTERVIEW.
WCT: Simon, let’s talk a little bit about Aaron. It’s a pretty tricky character because he’s being second-guessed by the other
characters and by the audience. I wonder what your approach to creating him was.
NH: I’d like to know this, too. He had sex with both genders, right?
SIMON McBURNEY (SM): No the answer that’s been given many times before is that it has to do with the way Nicole writes. I think
there’s a huge amount of unconscious stuff that goes on when people write and even though this is a feminine perspective and this
is about women talking about their problems, I was struck by the nuances of the unsettling things in that sense.
NH: He just wants to know if you were gay or not (laughs).
WCT: Exactly – is Aaron gay or is he bi-curious? I think that part of the anger of Frances McDormand’s character is because
somewhere she knows that he’s gay deep down inside and sooner or later she’s going to have to deal with it.
SM: No I think she’s just going through a crisis.
WCT: Isn’t there a little bit of that in there?
NH: I think there is. When I wrote it I did feel that when I knew that this character was in a rage I wondered if it was because her
husband was gay and then I wrote some notes about having him turn out to be gay and then I thought, “No, I want her rage to be
free floating” but I do think there’s an element of that in there though I don’t think I discussed that with Simon.
WCT: Nicole, did you write Catherine’s part with her in mind?
CK: Well I know she got all her first choices and she would tell me I want so and so to play this and I would say –
NH: --“Good luck to you.”
CK: --and then she would call up and say, “Joan’s going to do it.” It was thrilling how the movie came together.
WCT: Well they’re great parts for women and for you (TO JOAN CUSACK) especially, to have done so many of those wacky,
outrageous dark characters to do a “normal” person was it just “thank you” or was it daunting?
JC: No, it was great. I mean four women talking about real things and real struggles in life and beautifully written. It was not work;
it was like what you dream of.
NH: I had actually written a couple of movies for Joan long before I met her; long before I could get a hold of her and those scripts
are in a drawer but long before I knew Keener existed she was my muse.
CK: I was always such a big fan of hers and for me I was so excited beyond what I imagined when I knew she would do it. I just
loved her take on the character because it was so alive and fresh and beautiful and spirited and all that stuff and you can see how
people are drawn to her without all being some quirky, out there, loony, all comically driven. For me as a fan it was really exciting to
WCT: It was.
JC: But that’s Nicole, though.
NH: I knew that Joan would be likeable and that’s casting. I knew Joan would bring that. She has that face; she has that spirit.
That character has to be likeable.
WCT: How do you recommend this picture to straight guys? It doesn’t really strike me as a chick flick but as more of a mature
movie about men and women.
NH: I agree. I don’t think about it. I just hope people will go see it.
CK: That’s interesting. When you hear “chick flick” you definitely think there’s something condescending or patronizing about it.
SM: If it was four guys you wouldn’t say, “It’s a dick flick.”
CK: No, you’d say it’s a PRICK FLICK!
EVERYONE BURSTS INTO LAUGHTER
WCT: Thank you. There’s my headline, “It’s a Prick Flick Says Catherine Keener.”
CK: No, no, I go see those movies, those “chick flicks” –
WCT: --along with every gay man in America, hello.
CK: --and I don’t think there’s any problem with the word “chick” but I do think that if the term is diminishing the movie than it
should be avoided. I agree this is a mature movie for whomever.